767px-Louvre-peinture-francaise-paire-de-chevaliers-romantiques-p1020301As the third project in a series of public updates on Open Design’s current batch of patronage projects, KQ.com presents Courts of the Shadow Fey, Open Design’s 4th Edition project.

Duelists and Team Players

Back in the days when I was working at TSR in Lake Geneva, I played a wide range of lunchtime board games with the TSR staff designers: Risk, Diplomacy, Empires of the Middle Ages, even Buck Rogers. And a strange little GDW fencing game called En Garde!, by Frank Chadwick. Each player assumes the part of a swordsman who strives to outdo all his fellows…

It was great fun matching wits with the other players—and even more fun occasionally taking down a big design gun like Zeb Cook or Skip Williams. Though it wasn’t actual single combat in the Arthurian mold, it was certainly a thrill to defeat one’s “betters.” In every game, inevitable side conversations sprang up on why a certain mechanic worked or failed. Maybe, it’s partly that era that gives me the warm fuzzies when it comes time to have a throw-down challenge in D&D adventures.

I wanted to bring some of that joy of dueling into Courts of the Shadow Fey, as the boldest swordsman or mage stared down a demonic duelist or a quickling with a blade so fast that it’s nigh invisible. Books, movies, and legend all make the role of the single combatant perfectly plain, and it doesn’t take much to convince the player of a paladin or any martial character of the charm inherent in winning a duel.

But this is where things run directly into the culture of RPGs, and that’s what makes the work interesting. D&D is very much a game of teamwork, containing different class roles that work together and combats that are almost always melees of six or ten or 15 combatants. One-on-one play sidelines most of the players, in much the same way that the netrunner in Cyberpunk games or the psionicist of 1E D&D could take over the GM’s attention and bring the rest of the game to a screeching halt. While it’s fine to have a single player shine for a minute or two while, say, the arcanist does some ritual or the thief defangs a trap, you don’t want that turning into an hour-long slog while the other players start texting or ordering pizza. The reintroduction of proper dueling into D&D seems like a conundrum, at the very least. How to make it work is the current challenge, and I have two solutions to propose to the project’s patrons.

Want to know how I resolved the duelist/single combat design dilemma? Join me as a patron of Courts of the Shadow Fey, and you’ll see how it works.

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